Open Access Thesis
In this thesis I incorporated the use of a two-fold lens to investigate the character development of the author Richard Henry Dana, Jr., who I met in his autobiography and his book Two Years Before the Mast, the written record of his 1834-1836 voyage aboard the Pilgrim and the Alert. In an effort to understand Dana the sailor and Dana the lawyer, I viewed his life and work, in part, through the lens of Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful, paying special attention to Burke’s definition of the sublime as encompassing pain and suffering. Through Burke’s Enquiry I took a closeup view of Dana’s personal suffering in those years of and immediately preceding the voyage, and I paid close attention to the sufferings in the lives of Dana’s closest companions—the sailors. While investigating Dana’s life as recorded in his autobiography and Two Years through Burke’s sublime I felt drawn to view my study through another lens, that of the Old Testament book of Job, noting specific applicable excerpts from chapters 38-42. Through this lens I compared Job’s suffering to the suffering that Dana endured, particularly with the intent of discovering correlations between the two, if there were any to be found. Though I consider the study of suffering and the sublime to be an ongoing investigation in my life, I have nevertheless come to a conclusion to this particular study: it was because of, or through suffering, that Dana became interested in the plight of the downtrodden in his society and in his sphere of influence, especially the plight of those common sailors abused by captains and officers and the fugitive slave suffering under the yoke of the Fugitive Slave Bill. That Dana spent his working life in defense of these two groups of defenseless sufferers is due in large part, if not in the whole, to the fact that his heart was softened to their plight by not only their personal pain and suffering, but also by his own. Because Burke places so much emphasis on pain, terror, and suffering in his definition of the sublime, I place my emphasis there too and have come to conclude that Dana’s survival of his own encounter with the sublime, and his subsequent fruitful life of service to the downtrodden is the victory of the sublime in his life. Ultimately, I conclude that Dana flourished as a lawyer, as a man, and as a citizen not in spite of the sublime but because of it.
Date of Award
Master of Arts
Department of Languages and Literatures
Jeremy Schraffenberger, Chair, Thesis Committee
1 PDF file (iv, 62 pages)
©2018 Laurie Anne Lee
Lee, Laurie Anne, "They that go down to the sea in ships: Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s Two Years Before the Mast and the sublime" (2018). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 535.